With many club players from across the country participating, the winter open football tournament in Phuentsholing, which began since December 9, is expected to have as many spectators.

There are 20 teams participating in the tournament.

With the tournament rules allowing a team to hire at least two club players, most teams have one or two hired.

The open tournament comes right after the departmental football tournament last month.

This time, the winning team would take home Nu 150,000. The runners-ups will bag Nu 100,000 and Nu 50,000.

A private diagnostic centre, Phuentsholing Diagnostic Centre, is organising the tournament.

The owner of the centre, Sonam Tshewang, said that the main motive of organising the tournament is to keep the youth entertained and occupied in winter. “It is not a profit-oriented tournament.”

The organiser spent Nu 800,000 to give the prizes, book the turf with Phuentsholing Sports Association (PSA), and pay the referees. Each team paid an entry fee of Nu 20,000.

He also said that they have to charge Nu 25 per person as entry ticket to watch the matches. “We are also trying to get sponsorships.”

The organisers have also hired referees from other places in the country to deter conflict of interests.

One of the participating teams, Rigsum’s team captain, Sonam Chogyal said that they have two teams. “We have club players in our team,” he said. “We cover their expenses.”

Sonam Chogyal said that all teams participating in the tournament have strong players.

With the installment of the artificial football turf in Phuentsholing, craze for football has increased in the last one year. The PSA ground is reserved all the time with football enthusiasts.

PSA general secretary, Gyem Tshering, said that many came forward to play after the turf was launched in January this year. “The ground usage has doubled.”

This year, PSA recorded 107 matches in September, the highest since the turf opened.

Gyem Tshering said matches increased as teams wanted to practice more for the departmental tournament in October.

As of December 10, PSA recorded 929 matches at the turf, including the ongoing open tournament matches and department tournaments. A total of 48 matches will be played at the PSA turf by the time the tournament concludes on January 14 next year.

On the opening, GNH United hammered Sonam Trophel 9-4.

Both teams had equally skilled players but a red card cost Sonam Trophel a striker, which worked to GNH’s favour.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing